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An abortion doula explains the impact of North Carolina's expanded limitations


North Carolina has been a haven for people in the South to get abortions. For the last year, that access has been shrinking. And this week the Republican-controlled state legislature ensured that a ban on abortions after 12 weeks will become law in North Carolina on July 1. When Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, lawmakers overrode it. Ash Williams has been on the front lines of these changes. He's an abortion doula, which means he provides support to patients throughout the process of ending a pregnancy. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ASH WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Will you just begin by telling us about what the work of an abortion doula involves, what you actually do?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. So an abortion doula is a person who provides emotional, informational and, when given consent, physical support before, during and after abortion. Because I'm a transgender person, it's really important for me to be able to offer gender-expansive care for the people that I serve. I'm also funding people's abortions as well - so anything from letting people know what clinics are OK to go to, where they can actually receive care to explaining sedation options for them. And then I also want to make sure that people always feel like they have someone to talk to.

SHAPIRO: You've talked in the past about having had two abortions yourself, and that was before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Do you think about how your experience would have been different if you'd gotten pregnant now?

WILLIAMS: So, Ari, when I was ending a pregnancy two times, I was before the 12-week gestating mark. A lot of people aren't as lucky, or they don't find out as early as I found out. And also, I want to say that out of all the abortions that I've funded and the clients that I've served this year, about half of them are at or beyond that 12-week mark.

SHAPIRO: You've spoken to NPR a couple of times over the last year as the laws in North Carolina have changed and the window for people to get an abortion has shrunk. How has that changed your job and the experience of the people you work with who are ending their pregnancies?

WILLIAMS: I have a lot more work to do now. I'm also making sure that my work extends beyond the state of North Carolina because so many people are trying to access care here from outside of the state.

SHAPIRO: So I imagine that you are both working with people who want to come to North Carolina to end a pregnancy and working with people in states that have more liberal abortion laws when people in North Carolina want to end a pregnancy outside of the time period that your state allows.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. Before Roe, there were existing networks of support, and we are seeing these networks become more expansive in providing holistic care. And so I am going to work with my partners and other organizers to get people out of the state of North Carolina if that is something that's needed. I also, Ari, am increasing access to information about self-managing abortion.

SHAPIRO: Through medicine, through mifepristone, for example.

WILLIAMS: Yes. I think that's something that's going to be increasingly important. And so one of the things that I've done is kind of beefed up my resource bank so that I can help people get the pills in an expeditious way.

SHAPIRO: You are not only an abortion doula. You train other abortion doulas.

WILLIAMS: That's right.

SHAPIRO: Why do you do this work? Why is it important to you?

WILLIAMS: I do this work because there are other trans people who have abortions. I'm a Black trans person. I've had two abortions. For me, the vicious and overwhelming attacks against LGBTQ and trans people and our families - this is inextricably linked to the abortion bans. Reproductive justice teaches us that the key to controlling entire communities is through controlling bodies. And so I believe that because these attacks are coordinated, so too must our resistance. I am really kind of sitting at this intersection of trans justice and abortion access. And I believe that if we focus in on this intersection, we will make sure that people of all genders have increased access to all types of reproductive care.

SHAPIRO: That's Ash Williams, an abortion doula in North Carolina. Thank you for speaking with us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.